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Coast Guard: Nobody properly licensed on tug

Image: Tug boats hold pieces of the barge
Tugboats hold up the two pieces of a barge that is split in half after an accident caused fuel oil to leak into the Mississippi River Wednesday.Alex Brandon / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Coast Guard said no one was properly licensed aboard a tugboat that hit a tanker early Wednesday, resulting in a major oil spill on the Mississippi River.

Lieutenant Commander Cheri Ben-Iesau of the Coast Guard in New Orleans said the tugboat operator had an apprentice mate's license and there was no one else on the vessel properly licensed to guide the boat on the river.

The Coast Guard will conduct an in-depth investigation, Ben-Iesau said.

The identity of the tugboat operator was not been released.

Guard officials closed 29 miles of the Mississippi River at New Orleans after the 600-foot tanker and a barge collided, breaking the barge in half.

Nobody was injured, but more than 419,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil spilled from the barge, Ben-Iesau said.

The double-hulled tanker Tintomara was loaded with about 4.2 million gallons of biodiesel bound for Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and nearly 1.3 million gallons of styrene bound for Hamburg, Germany, but was not leaking, said Michael Wilson, president of ship management company Laurin Maritime (America) Inc. in Houston. The company is a subsidiary of Goteborg, Sweden-based Laurin Maritime AB.

The Liberian-flagged tanker is owned by Whitefin Shipping Co. Ltd. of Gibraltar. The tanker had only minor damage, the management company said.

The collision occurred about 1:30 a.m. CDT just upriver from the Crescent City Connection, a pair of bridges between New Orleans' east and west banks.

The river was closed about 3:30 a.m., about 45 minutes after someone reported a strong odor of diesel coming from the river, Young said. Tugboats were holding the halves of the barge in place, she said.

Styrene is a colorless, sweet-smelling liquid used to make plastics and rubber, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Ben-Iesau said the state Department of Environmental Quality made sure that all water intakes and sensitive environmental areas downriver from the spill were boomed off to keep the fuel oil out.